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Wednesday, April 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Gun-Toting Attorney |Loses Civil Rights Appeal

(CN) - A police officer did not violate a Massachusetts attorney's civil rights by stopping the lawyer in a high-crime area near a courthouse for carrying a holstered gun, the 1st Circuit ruled.

Greg Schubert, a prominent criminal defense attorney in Springfield, Mass., sued the city and officer J.B. Stern for civil rights violations after the officer stopped and briefly questioned the attorney when he noticed that Schubert was carrying a concealed weapon in a holster on his belt.

Schubert, who showed the officer a concealed weapons permit, said Stern leaped from his cruiser in a "dynamic and explosive" manner, pointed his gun in Schubert's face and ordered him to put his hands in the air.

Stern took the gun, ammunition and license to his cruiser to verify the validity of the license. Realizing that the check would take too long, he released Schubert but kept the gun and license, telling him to pick them up from the police department.

The officer maintained that the location of the arrest, near a courthouse, is a high-crime area, that Schubert had partially concealed the weapon beneath a jacket even though it was a hot day, and that passersby had alerted him to Schubert's firearm by pointing and waving.

The district court ruled for the officer, and Schubert appealed.

Though the officer could not produce any witnesses to back up his claim that passersby had alerted him to the weapon, the three-judge panel in Boston said Stern was justified in stopping the attorney and taking his gun.

"The officer took several reasonable steps given that Schubert was an unknown armed man walking in that particular location: he emerged quickly from his vehicle, drew his gun, executed a pat-frisk, requested identification and a gun license, [and] attempted to confirm the validity" of the permit, Judge Norman Stahl wrote.

Stahl added that Schubert's claim that his gun license was valid and did not need to be checked was unconvincing.

"Just as an officer is justified in attempting to confirm the validity of a driver's license, such a routine check is also valid and prudent regarding a gun license," he wrote.

"As it happens, Massachusetts did not have a simple way for police officers to conduct such a check, so Stern's effort to do so took several minutes. But the entire stop took only ten minutes and when Stern realized that he would not be able to confirm the gun license within a reasonable time, he sensibly opted to terminate the stop and release Schubert, but retain the weapon."

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